Protests over Tulsa & Charlotte Police Killings Stem from Economic Policies That Perpetuate Racism

StorySeptember 23, 2016
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Rev. Dr. William Barber

president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays leader.

The police killings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have drawn attention to policies backed by Republicans that have perpetuated racism and voter suppression, says our guest Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays leader.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Speaking on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that because of the unrest in Charlotte, quote, "the country looks bad to the world." He again used the events to appeal to black voters.

DONALD TRUMP: The people who will suffer the most as a result of these riots are law-abiding African-American residents who live in these communities where the crime is so rampant. It’s their jobs, housing markets, schools, economic conditions that will suffer. And the first duty of government is to protect their well-being and safety. We have to do that. There is no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct. Crime and violence is an attack on the poor and will never be accepted in a Trump administration. Never, ever. Our job—thank you—our job is not to make life more comfortable for the violent disruptor, but to make life more comfortable for the African-American parent trying to raise their kids in peace, to walk their children to school and to get their children great educations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Well, for more, we’re joined by the Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Monday leader.

And I wanted to ask you, the impact—Trump, in his remarks, never mentions the violence being perpetrated on African Americans by some of these police officers. I’m wondering your sense of the impact of his words, because he’s sounding more and more like a reversion back to Richard Nixon and "law and order" as his campaign theme for the presidency. His impact on the African-American community, especially on African-American youth, of Trump’s words?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, you just hit the nail on the head. It’s a hypocrisy, and it’s revisionist history, and he’s reaching back to the strategy that Kevin Phillips gave to Richard Nixon on how to hold onto the South and win the country. It’s called the Southern strategy: use all kind of code words and misdirection. But it’s full of hypocrisy, and it’s full of untruthful things.

First of all, Donald Trump is running to be-divider-in-chief, suppressor-in-chief, hater-in-chief and reverser-in-chief. No matter what he says in his cute teleprompter speech, we have to remember what he said with his mouth, and, more importantly, his policies. Now, let’s listen to what his policies are. First, he is for voter suppression. When the Supreme Court said that North Carolina had engaged in surgical racism against black people in voting laws, he came to North Carolina and said that that decision would open up fraud. He joined with those who perpetrated racism and surgical voter suppression. Number two, Donald Trump is for reversing Medicaid expansion, which would hurt 20 million Americans—many, many, many white Americans, but 3 million African Americans alone. He is—he believes that we have—number three, he believes we have too high of a minimum wage and is not for living wages. There are 64 million Americans—black, white and brown—who make less than the living wage, and 54 percent are African-American. He is not for raising the living wage. He’s for the proliferation of guns, the very cause of much of the violence in our community. He is for tax cuts on the wealthy and raising tax and fees on the poor and the working poor in ways that would take us back to the kind of recession policies that we saw under George Bush and the false notions of trickle-down. He is for the kind of policies that could possibly proliferate war, which will be negative to poor whites and blacks who end up fighting the wars often that rich people engage in. He is for taking money from public schools, which black, brown and poor white people need, and giving it to private schools that can segregate and that most black, brown and white people cannot go to. And so, over and over again, what he says on his teleprompter and what his policies actually show us are two different realities.

And he’s not talking to black people. If you listen to him or some of his campaign people, this is the narrative. And it’s a shrewd and sinister narrative out of the Southern strategy. "Black people will not let us help them," he’s saying, "will not trust us," the very people who since 1968 and the Southern strategy have been against everything that benefited the progression of black people. Number two, "Black people are their own problem. They are their own problem." And number three, "Black people are the cause of your problems," saying that to white people, "particularly in all of the money we’ve had to spend on welfare," which, in fact, most of the welfare is actually used by black people—white people—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and social safety net. It is a hypocritical argument, and it is a dangerous argument and is a sinister argument, because it is not a serious conversation about race and racial disparity.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, I wanted to play for you the comment of Republican Congressmember Robert Pittenger, whose district includes parts of Charlotte, who said demonstrators were upset because, unlike North Carolina’s white residents, the African Americans are not successful. He made these comments on BBC.

JAMES O’BRIEN: With respect, Congressman, I don’t think the people on the streets last night and the night before were protesting against Lyndon B. Johnson’s almost half-a-century-old policies. What is their grievance, in their mind?

REP. ROBERT PITTENGER: Well, no, the grievance in their mind is that they—the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not. I mean, yes, it is. It is a welfare state. We have—we have spent trillions of dollars on welfare. But we’ve put people in bondage so that they can’t be all that they’re capable of being.

AMY GOODMAN: Hours later, Congressman Pittenger apologized in several posts on Twitter, saying his anguish about what was happening in Charlotte prompted him to respond to a question, quote, "in a way that I regret." But I’m wondering if you could respond to this. And also, talk about North Carolina, your state. I mean, right now, people are voting for president, is that right? Or people are engaged in early voting. But first respond to Congressman Pittenger.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, he had to say he regretted, and what he really probably regrets is the first part of what he said. See, in this white Southern strategy, you’re not supposed to say, "They hate us because we’re successful." You’re not supposed to be that overt in your racism. You’re simply supposed to say "welfare state" as a code word for racism. You’re supposed to say "tax cuts" or "entitlement programs," that we need to get rid of, as code words. He blew the code, and he was out in the open.

Because what he said—racism, as you know, is not rooted in fact; it’s rooted in fear. It’s not rooted in truthfulness; it’s rooted in foolishness. His history is wrong. We know that the Great Society programs, many of them work, especially for white people. Many of the programs now that he and others demean are the very programs that helped lift many whites, particularly in the South and in other areas, out of poverty.

We know, when you look at that particular congressperson and look at his record, if we—if the country follows his voting record, we would have less voting rights, because he has refused to sign on to restoring the Voting Rights Act. We’d have less healthcare, less wages. We would have less love and less mercy.

And many of the very people that are hurt by the policies he promote are white. We have 1.9 million poor people in North Carolina. The majority of them are white. Three hundred and forty-six thousand of the 500,000 people being denied Medicaid expansion are white. What he and others are afraid of is what we’ve seen in the Moral Monday movement and what I’m seeing as I’m going around the country in "The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution": black and white and Latino people coming together and forming fusion coalitions and understanding that all of this divisive rhetoric and these divisive policies and this white Southern strategy was designed to keep the very people apart from each other that need to be allies, who need to change this country. You know, lastly, Amy, if you look at the stats on Politico, PolitiFact, the majority of the states that—counties—are the poorest are those that have states that are so-called—led by so-called red states or people who claim to be Republican. The very policies that they promote hurt the people that they sell this false narrative.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend Barber, we’ve been talking about the situation in Charlotte, but I’d like to also bring in what’s happened in Tulsa, where police officer Betty Shelby has been booked at the local county jail and released on $50,000 bond. On Thursday, Shelby was charged with felony manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher. The criminal complaint says Shelby’s, quote, "fear resulted in her unreasonable actions which led her to shooting." She is accused of, quote, "unlawfully and unnecessarily" shooting Crutcher after he did not comply with her "lawful orders." If convicted, Shelby faces four years to life in prison. Could you talk about the difference between what happened in the situation in Tulsa versus what’s happened so far in Charlotte, and what you would hope to happen in Charlotte?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, first of all, you did not have the context like you’ve had in North Carolina in the kind of regressive, violent policy attacks that we’ve seen over the last three years by this governor. So there’s already a lot of unrest, hurt and pain in North Carolina. You know, we even have been a state that has launched the worst attack on the LGBTQ community, the living wage, people fighting for living wage, and even persons who wanted employment discrimination in the state courts. You also have in North Carolina a state that’s had the highest number of African Americans exonerated from death row in the last 10 years of any state in the country. You also have a state where we have innumerous people who are incarcerated—African Americans—for crimes they did not commit, and the governor has refused to pardon them. In fact, I have a press conference about two of them this morning. You also have a place where the crime lab was found to—abused over 200 cases, and people have—in terms of the way they dealt with DNA evidence. You also have a city where you had Jonathan Ferrell, and, even though someone was indicted, it ended up with a hung jury, and people said a hung jury was a spoken jury, when we know that’s not true. A hung jury is a hung jury.

So, you have to understand all of that, the context of all of that, all of the attacks on the poor, all of the attacks on healthcare and voting rights. And then you drop this situation in. And unlike Tulsa, where they had transparency, and they now have an indictment, we’ve actually had—we’ve not had transparency, and we’ve found out more and more evidence that points against the police narrative—which also proves something, too, that black people, as you said, are not just against cops or against white cops, because in this situation the chief is black and the alleged shooter is black. Black people are saying, whatever it is, we want transparency. And it’s not just black people; it’s black and white people saying it together. We want transparency. And that is the number one problem here in Charlotte. There was not transparency. And the police overreacted, did not listen to the community leaders that were on the ground, and exacerbated a problem that did not have to go this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the governor of North Carolina, your state, the stance he has taken right now, where you see things going, his relationship with the governor—with the mayor of Charlotte? She did impose a curfew but said they wouldn’t enforce it if people were peaceful. And the people were peaceful.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain who gives the governor his power, and the movement that you’ve been leading, the Moral Mondays movement, and the effect you think it’s had.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, you know, supposedly, the people give the governor the power. But let’s look at the governor’s rhetoric, because my deep suspicion is there is some pushing around all of this to try to create some political movement, because, you know, he’s in trouble. So, my understanding from the clergy is that there wasn’t even a great desire by the City Council and other persons to create the emergency—state of emergency in the first place. Remember, we’re in a state—and God knows we are against any form of violence. Those officers that were hurt the first night, the young man that was killed, and we don’t know how he was killed—we do know that we have a lot of conflicting accounts of that. But, Amy, we understand the governor pushed for this emergency piece. Now, we’re in a state where we—for instance, UNC wins the championship, and we’ve seen cars overturned, bonfires started in the middle of the street, and we don’t have an emergency state. In fact, they open up the burn unit. So, how do you move from 99.9 percent of the protesters doing the right thing, a few dozen doing the wrong thing, and suddenly there’s an emergency state in a city that’s already prepared to handle even a presidential convention? That’s number one.

Number two, this curfew, we don’t know where it came from and what pressures were put on to have the curfew, and we saw that it was totally unnecessary. And the police and the community leaders could have handled legitimate discontent and anger and nonviolent justice protest.

Lastly, this governor has been a source of division throughout the country and here in North Carolina. And he actually has lied. And I don’t normally say that like that. But I heard him the other night say on CNN—he claimed his love for Dr. King, which all people—which they tend to run to every time people express legitimate discontent. Well, remember, Dr. King was called a militant. He said that he respected nonviolent protesters. Well, we protested for 21 weeks, were arrested, and he never met with us. He has refused to meet with clergy. As late as two weeks ago, clergy of all different faiths attempted to just deliver a moral declaration of values to his office, and they would not receive it. So, this governor is saying one thing for a political reason, but the political reality is something very different. He, like Donald Trump, has been a divider. He has helped to stir more division. He has dishonored the nonviolent tradition and now does not really have the credibility to challenge what’s going on, even in terms of the violence, because he has passed policies that has cost people their lives. You know, when a state denies 500,000 people Medicaid simply because they don’t like a black man in the White House, that means about a thousand to 1,500 people die every year, which means somewhere upwards of 5,000 people in North Carolina have died since this governor and Legislature has denied Medicaid expansion.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Reverend Barber, for joining us. I also wanted to point out the lawyer for the Scott family, Justin Bamberg, is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, also represented Alton Sterling’s family in Baton Rouge, African-American man gunned down by police, as well as another Mr. Scott, Walter Scott. People may remember in North Charleston, South Carolina, Walter Scott gunned down by a police officer after the officer stopped him for a taillight being out. We’ll—

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Yeah, Amy, if you would, I know you’ve got to run, but please—as people said, this man was not even the suspect. And also remember, the Walter Scott case, there was a plant. There was a plant, shown on the video. We are convinced that if this video was about a citizen shooting a cop and it showed it clearly, that the video would be out. And if the video was conclusive, it would be out. Something is wrong in the reason why they will not release that video, and we need to listen to the experts and the family and have it released.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, Moral Mondays leader. His most recent book, Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. Thanks so much for joining us from North Carolina.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a fiery session of the U.S. Senate. It was the Senate Banking Committee, and it was Senator Warren of Massachusetts grilling the CEO of Wells Fargo. Why were over 5,000 low-level employees fired, she asked, and not him? Stay with us.

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